Students in Proviso Township High Schools District 209 have more healthy options for breakfast and lunch this new school year, and they do not have to pay for it.
More fruits and vegetables, less sugary soda and drinks, yogurt, and a renewed emphasis on whole grain and freshly cooked entrees are on the menu. While familiar standbys such as burgers and pizza are still available, healthier entrees that meet new USDA guidelines, said Mr. Robert Carter, food service director for District 209.
"This is to encourage students to start eating healthier," Mr. Carter said.
All students are able to receive a free breakfast and a free lunch as a result of participating in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast programs called the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), new in District 209 for the 2015-2016 school year. Schools that participate in the CEP are able to provide healthy breakfasts and lunches each day at no charge for all students enrolled in that CEP school during the 2015-2016 school year.
Being a free meal has not meant a loss in quality, however. Recent entrees that have been served include chicken parmesan, chicken fajitas, and red beans. In addition, students have the option of getting a deli sandwich with fresh vegetables and lunch meats. All entrees are served with a fruit such as an apple, an orange, or a bag of grapes. The fruits and vegetables also are available for purchase in the a la carte lines.
"Since we’re going free, we want to make sure the kids have a choice," Mr. Carter said. "We’re trying to get something similar to what they eat at home."
Mrs. Theresa L. Kelly, president of the District 209 Board of Education, said that students benefit when they are not hungry.
"Students do better when they do not have to worry about being hungry," she said. "I am proud that we moved forward with these changes, and I am certain that this will play a role in more student achievement in the classroom."
Dr. Nettie Collins-Hart, superintendent of District 209, agreed, saying that nutrition and education go hand in hand.
"I think there’s an important link between good health and nutrition and education," Dr. Collins-Hart said. "If a student is not hungry, they are able to concentrate at a higher level on academics which will result in more student achievement."
Students seemed to liking the new menu options as well, particularly since it is free for them, Mr. Carter said. About 600 more meals have been served each day at each school compared to the same period last year, he said.
"It benefits everybody," said Tyron Flagg, a Proviso East senior. "Now I’m eating."
At Proviso West, Samantha Quijote, a freshman, talked with friends with an apple in hand.
"The food is pretty good," she said. "The chicken parmesan was good."
Lukas Dumasius, a junior at PMSA, said that having the lunches available is a convenience for him as a busy student.
"I think that it is helpful," he said. "It saves me time because I don’t have to worry about my lunch in the morning."